DISARMING ARMINIAN'S "TRINITY" OF PROOF TEXTS: 1 OF 3
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Scriptures: Matthew 23:37; 1 Timothy 2:4; & 2 Peter 3:9
There are many today who strongly disagree with Calvinism, also identified as the Doctrines of Grace and even more commonly known by the acronym T.U.L.I.P. In most cases, those who oppose Calvinism simply do not have an accurate understanding of what it entails. However, others vehemently reject it and deem it unbiblical; some go so far as to label it a “doctrine of demons” or outright “heresy.” In reality it is the most efficient, thorough, biblically based, systematic theology ever developed. It is unrelentingly Scriptural all throughout.
At the core of the issue is the unwavering dedication Calvinist's have to the absolute sovereignty of God. Directly connected to God's sovereignty is the issue of predestination, or election, and it is here where the line in the sand is often drawn.
There are three proof texts these objectors repeatedly turn to: Matthew 23:37, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9. They tell us to take these verses in their plain meaning, but that “plain” meaning is actually whatever their bias determines that meaning to be. If one truly believes the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and our ultimate source of authority for all things with which it addresses, then both sides need to properly exegete these passages.
In his book, The Potter's Freedom, Dr. James White identifies these three favored Arminian (or anti-Calvinist) passages as “The Big Three.” I refer to these same passages as the “Arminian's 'Trinity' of Proof Texts.”
The Arminian “Trinity” of Proof Texts:
One: Matthew 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (ESV)”
They use this text in an attempt to show that one is able to resist God and His desire to save. They believe one is able to prevent this from happening through the exercise of their free will. But, is that what this passage is saying? Is that what is being portrayed by this imagery of of a hen and her chicks? Well the answer is both yes and no.
Let me start by saying sinful, fallen, corrupt people can and do resist God. In fact, they resist Him at almost every turn. Only a complete misunderstanding or misrepresentation of TULIP's “I” (Irresistible Grace) could cause one to believe that those who adhere to Calvinism don't believe in the ability of man to resist God. Not only does sinful man have the ability to resist God, their natural inclination is to resist God. Irresistible Grace, also known as Effectual Calling, refers to God's absolute and complete sovereign work in the regeneration of His elect, His chosen.
This is going to sound elementary, but whenever one wants to know what the Scripture is teaching, especially a specific passage or text, it needs to be interpreted in its proper context. If you were to ask my former bible college students what is the single most important thing that I emphasized to them in regards to hermeneutics and exegesis I am almost positive they would unanimously answer, “context, context, context.” I probably echoed that phrase so often that they got sick of hearing it. However, that's how important it is, and that is one thing Arminians repeatedly fail to do.
Well, following is the context we find this verse in:
Matthew 23:1, “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, (2) 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, (3) so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice...(13) “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in...(16) “Woe to you, blind guides...(23) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...(25) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...(27) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...(29) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...(33) “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced o hell? (34) Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, (35) so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. (36) Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (37) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (ESV)”
The verse we are discussing is found directly in the context of a severe rebuke of the religious leaders of the time, the religious leaders of the Jewish people to be specific. Pay particular attention to the pronoun “you” in verses 33-35. These verses are describing the killers of the prophets. Who is it that this “you” is referring to? We see the killers of the prophets (Jerusalem) being deeply grieved over “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city...your...you...”. To attribute the “you” here to anyone other than the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was rebuking is a monumental mistake, a grievous error of interpretation.
From here let's take a closer look at who it was that was resisting and who it was that was to be gathered. When we look at the passage it is clear. It was the religious leaders that were resisting Him in His “gathering” or “drawing” of their children.
So, to close out this section let's do a quick review. What we have here is a verse where the religious leaders of the Jews are being lamented, directly after what was probably the most severe rebuking ever given to anyone by Jesus, over their resistance to God's drawing of the children of Israel.
This verse, or even the entire chapter, in no way, contradicts any aspect of Calvinism. Reformed theology and Matthew 23:37 are not at odds with each other in any way, shape or form.